Tag Archives: Learning theory

The Hierarchy of Rewards is Not Static

In 2014, I published a blog post entitled Jambo’s Hierarchy of Rewards in which I discussed the different reinforcers I use when training and the ‘value’ they have for my learner.  In my article entitled Rewards and Positive Reinforcement – Are they the same?  I discussed the meaning of rewards versus reinforcement. In this article I would like to take a look at “hierarchies”.

When needs are not being met, animals will be motivated to try and fulfil those needs.  Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid. Maslow stated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs and that some needs take precedence over others. Our most basic need is for physical survival, and this will be the first thing that motivates our behavior. Once that level is fulfilled the next level up is what motivates us. The original hierarchy of needs five-stage model includes:

  1. Biological and physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep. The things that we need to survive. All animals are motivated by these needs. If we are hungry we will want to eat, if we are thirsty, we will want to drink.
  2. Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear. Not having these needs met can lead to stress and anxiety and even to aggressive responses in an effort to protect ourselves
  3. Love and belongingness needs – friendship, intimacy, trust and acceptance, receiving and giving affection and love. Affiliating, being part of a group (family, friends, work). The need for us to communicate with others and interact with others. If this need isn’t met we can become depressed and anxious. The same is true of animals.
  4. Esteem needs – which Maslow classified into two categories: (i) esteem for oneself (dignity, achievement, mastery, independence) and (ii) the desire for reputation or respect from others (e.g. status, prestige).
  5. Self-actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

It is important to note that Maslow’s (1943, 1954) five stage model has been expanded to include cognitive and aesthetic needs (Maslow, 1970a) and later transcendence needs (Maslow, 1970b) as follows:

  1. Biological and physiological needs
  2. Safety needs
  3. Love and belongingness needs
  4. Esteem needs
  5. Cognitive needs – knowledge and understanding, curiosity, exploration, need for meaning and predictability. The need to understand and a desire to know things.
  6. Aesthetic needs – appreciation and search for beauty, balance, form, etc.
  7. Self-actualization needs
  8. Transcendence needs – A person is motivated by values which transcend beyond the personal self. e.g. mystical experiences and certain experiences with nature, aesthetic experiences, sexual experiences, service to others, the pursuit of science, a religious faith etc. (McLeod, 2017)

Why is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory important?  It has made a big impact on how we teach and manage our students in school. We know that behavior is a response to the environment but Maslow’s hierarchy also looks at the physical, emotional, social and intellectual needs and how they impact learning. The hierarchy also clearly shows us that before an individual’s cognitive needs can be met, we must fulfil the basic physiological needs. I often tell my clients that although we want to use food as reinforcement that does not mean that I want anyone to not feed their dog.  A hungry learner will find it very difficult to focus on learning!  I also believe we should show our learners, both human and canine, that they are valued and respected and ensure we work with them in a safe and supportive environment.  We need to meet the esteem needs of all our students so that they can quickly progress with their learning!

The Hierarchy of Dog Needs adapted from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs by Pet Professional Guild member, Linda Michaels, is a hierarchical model of wellness and behavior modification in which first we meet our dogs’ biological, emotional and social needs and, once these foundational needs have been met, we use management, antecedent modification, positive and differential reinforcement, counter-conditioning and desensitization to modify behavior.

Although not a hierarchy, before I get back to my Hierarchy of Rewards, I would like to mention Brambell’s Five Freedoms, which put responsibility on the animal care taker to make sure they provide animals with a good welfare environment.  I learned about the Five Freedoms and other animal welfare frameworks as part of my Animal Behaviour and Welfare course, University of Edinburgh.

In 1965, the UK government commissioned an investigation, led by Professor Roger Brambell, into the welfare of intensively farmed animals. The Brambell Report stated that:  “An animal should at least have sufficient freedom of movement to be able without difficulty, to turn round, groom Itself, get up, lie down and stretch its limbs”. This short recommendation became known as Brambell’s Five Freedoms. Because of the report, the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee was created to monitor the livestock production sector. In July 1979, this was replaced by the Farm Animal Welfare Council, and by the end of that year, the five freedoms had been codified into the recognizable list format. Although developed for farm animals, Brambell’s Five Freedoms can be adapted to pets. The Five Freedoms are:

  • Freedom from Hunger and Thirst
    By ready access to fresh water and diet to maintain health and vigor.
  • Freedom from Discomfort
    By providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
  • Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease
    By prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  • Freedom to Display Natural Behavior
    By providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
  • Freedom from Fear and Distress
    By ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

In addition to Brambell’s Five Freedoms other animal welfare frameworks such as the Duty of Care Concept need to be foremost in our minds when caring for and working with any animal. The Duty of Care Concept focuses on providing animals with a safe happy environment which they can enjoy and encourages legal responsibility for those animals.

Now back to Jambo’s Hierarchy of Rewards (Stapleton-Frappell, 2013)  If you have read everything above, you will understand that before beginning any training, the trainer should make sure that the learner’s basic needs are met. The trainer can then make use of both primary and secondary reinforcers but must bear in mind that the ‘value’ will be ascertained by the recipient and not the provider as, although I use the name Hierarchy of Rewards, I am referring to a hierarchy of positive reinforcement consequences.

The ‘value’ will be ascertained by the recipient and not the provider

Whether teaching Jambo or any other learner a new behavior, or reinforcing behaviors that have previously been taught, I use that learner’s own personal ‘hierarchy of rewards’.  Each individual’s hierarchy includes lower ‘value’ reinforcers which are consequence stimuli that will serve to reinforce simple known behaviors in that individual’s home environment or other non-distracting environments; medium ‘value’ reinforcers which will serve to reinforce slightly more difficult behaviors or behaviors in slightly more demanding environments, and finally, high ‘value’ reinforcers – those reinforcers that are at the ‘top of the tree’, the real ‘top guns’  that we use to reinforce more demanding behaviors and behaviors in environments where there are a lot of competing stimuli.

My go-to reinforcer when teaching a new behavior or when I need lots of repetitions is always food – small pieces of tasty, easy to chew and easy to swallow food – as I can deliver it quickly and maintain a high rate of reinforcement. It is also more effective to use smaller reinforcements more frequently rather than large reinforcements less often. However, I also make good use of ‘non-food’ items, which include everything from balls to tug toys to life rewards –  access to things my learner wants, such as going outside, sniffing a patch of grass, greeting someone…  Whether using food or non-food reinforcers, primary or secondary reinforcers, one thing is certain – reinforcers are not all equal and the ‘value’ of an individual reinforcer is not static. The ‘value’ to the learner will change depending on such factors as:

  • The behavior itself – The behaviors, as determined by the animal’s ability to do them and its biological pre-disposition to behave in certain ways, are easier or more difficult to reinforce. Behavior that depends on smooth muscles and glands is harder to reinforce than is behavior that depends on skeletal muscles. (Chance, Learning and Behavior, 2013)
  • The individual’s preferences
  • Previous learning history
  • The Setting Events and Motivating Operations

There are variables affecting reinforcement and affecting the value of each reinforcer at any given time, in different environments and with different individuals.  We also need to bear in mind that If we use the higher ‘value’ reinforcers too frequently for easy behaviors in non-distracting environments, we could find that not only will our learner no longer be motivated to ‘work’ for lower value reinforcers, but also that we dilute the value of those reinforcers that were previously at the top of the Hierarchy, making them less effective in more demanding situations or with more demanding behaviors.  We should make sure that we have a variety of reinforcers on all levels of our learner’s Hierarchy so that we have something to call upon of appropriate value in all situations. Varying the reinforcement consequence that is offered, will also help to overcome satiation – at some point, we have all eaten enough of that delicious cake but that doesn’t mean that we would say no to an ice-cold bottle of beer!

Although each individual will have their own Hierarchy of Rewards, neither Jambo nor any other learner’s Hierarchy of Rewards is static.  What works as a reinforcer one day may be of little interest to the same learner the next day.

The Hierarchy of Rewards

If Jambo were reasonably hungry and we were working in a non-distracting environment, he would probably find kibble (dry dog food) to be of sufficient ‘value’ and it would serve as an adequate reinforcement consequence.  If, however, we were to try and do that same behavior in a more distracting environment, at a greater distance or perhaps when Jambo had just eaten, then the kibble would have very little, if any ‘value’ and would not serve to positively reinforce a behavior.  If Jambo were in a playful mood then his tug toy would have a much higher value than if he were tired and ready for bed. An opportunity to sniff a nice patch of grass might serve to reinforce the behavior of coming close to me on a nice summer’s evening but on a dark and wet winter’s night, the opposite would be true –  If I wanted Jambo to leave my side and go to the grass, then it might be returning to my side and the protection of my umbrella that would serve as a reinforcer but maybe even that would not be of high enough ‘value’ and he would simply decide not to carry out the behavior. Perhaps performing ‘send-aways’ in the rain, calls for roast chicken?

This is the second in a series of three posts from my article: “The Hierarchy of Rewards – Delving into the World of Positive Reinforcers” for BARKS from the Guild magazine.  Part one can be found here:  Rewards and Positive Reinforcement – Are they the same?  In part three we will take a closer look at motivating operations; Jambo’s personal Hierarchy of Rewards, and some of the primary and secondary reinforcers we can all make use of in our training

This article has also been published as a DogSmith blog and through DogNostics Career Center with the title: A Dog’s Hierarchy of Rewards

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Journeyman Course Overview

Journeyman is the Level Two Training Meister course.  This course builds on all the skills and knowledge gained in the Apprentice course. The Journeyman course sees you continue your journey on the road to becoming a Master in the art and craft of force-free training and tricks! 

You will continue to learn about the science behind the training and build on your teaching skills, while having lots of fun!  You will refine your ability to communicate with your learner in order to set them up for success and as you continue to increase your knowledge and add to your skill-set, you will be amazed at the progression made by both you and your dog or other companion animal.

The knowledge and skills you learn in Training Meister Journeyman will set you up for all your future training.  As you practice the behaviors that you learn, your student will acquire new skills, continue to thrive and gain confidence.  Your relationship will further blossom and your bond will strengthen.

You do not need to have taken the Training Meister Apprentice Course, to enroll in the Training Meister Journeyman Course, however, it is advisable to check the learning objectives and assessment criteria from the Apprentice Level to ensure that you have the foundation knowledge for this course.

Programme Inclusion

  • Five recorded webinar e-learning sessions per level.
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  • Open book/multiple choice exams. 
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  • Video submission assessment to earn the TrickMeister Journeyman Trick Team Title! Please note, you must have earned the Apprentice Title in order to submit your application for the Journeyman Title.

 

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“I hope you saw my post thanking you for your help and encouragement. I also want to thank you for being the creator of such a WONDERFUL course. I had taken two other trick titling courses and in comparison, now I feel like I just bought the titles. There was no testing and no education as in your course. I feel your course is the GOLD standard by which I will measure all other training courses!! Thanks again for a wonderful job developing the course and all the hours you must invest in keeping the course running.”  Terri Latronica. Dog Trainer at Boyette Animal Hospital. Florida

“I have really enjoyed the DogNostics TrickMeister Journeyman Course presented by Louise Stapleton-Frappell.  This class goes beyond just showing you how to train a certain trick, but divulges into the science behind the force free training.  The how and why it works so well; how it opens the door to communicate with the learner, thus, setting them up for success.Collie with computer

I have learned a great deal from Louise by her wonderful monthly webinars.  Each month was new tricks and a different aspect of the science behind the teaching of these tricks.  I highly recommend this class to anyone wanting a stronger and more meaningful relationship with their furry companion.  Louise is a wonderful, encouraging person and a very well informed instructor.  You can’t help but to absolutely love her demo dog, Jumbo.  I have enjoyed teaching my dog tricks that I never thought I was capable of doing.  Force free training has opened up a whole new world for me and my dogs.  They love learning and I love to teach.  I am looking forward to the next class and an even deeper understanding of force free training.”  Patti Howerton, Illinois.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the Journeyman course and have learnt so much.  The information here is second to none and needs careful understanding, so all the extra links and opportunity to watch the webinars time again is invaluable.  As an older student it has helped me greatly to watch, read, listen and actually apply what I have learnt in my training and also watch and share progress with the Facebook group.  This has been a lovely way to enrich the relationship I share with my dogs.  Thank you!.”  Lizzie Morris, Devon.

 

Begin your Training Meister journey today!

Learning the TrickMeister Way!

How important is it to teach your canine companion what you would like them to do?

Would you like to go for a walk?
Would you like to go for a walk?

I believe it is extremely important but what is even more essential is that you teach in a way that doesn’t cause any stress; that you teach in a way that is fun for both teacher and student; that you teach in such a way that each ‘lesson’ is easy to understand; that you teach in a way that not only encourages learning but enhances it and that you teach in a way that makes all learning feel like a game!

I also maintain that in order to successfully teach any companion animal, you need to understand animal learning theory – you need a good foundation of the knowledge and skills that underpin science based, rewards based, force-free training!

Whether you are looking to reduce unwanted behaviors or would love your pet to know some cool tricks, the learning process is the same. Whether you are looking for effective management strategies or want to know how to teach your buddy to walk on a loose leash, the philosophy behind all of your interactions with your pet should be the same: A philosophy based on your belief that we do not need to punish our companions in order for them to learn – a philosophy based on the latest scientific research!

I am not implying that you need to be a scientist in order to teach your pet and I’m not implying that you need to study all the latest literature.  I’m not even implying that you need to ‘master’ every single ‘positive’ training strategy that is available for you to use.  I do, however, believe that you should have a foundation of knowledge and skills.

Misinformation abounds about the ‘best’ ways to ‘train’ your dog.  The access to information has never been easier.  Unfortunately, much of the information available isn’t based in fact and worst still, a lot of it could prove extremely detrimental to your pet’s physical and mental well-being and the relationship you share with each other.  You only have to read some of the posts on Facebook, Instagram or any other social media to be inundated with ‘advice’ on how to deal with a specific problem or how to teach a specific behaviour.  Do a search on the internet and you will, without doubt, find the answer you are looking for or will you?  You may think that you have the answer but, if you don’t have at least a basic understanding of learning theory, how will you know that the answer is the right one?

There are many ways to teach a behaviour but not all of them are going to promote a healthy, happy bond for you and your buddy.  Not all of them are going to be in your pet’s best interest.  What appears to be a ‘quick fix’ may be anything but when the consequences of your ‘teaching’ methods resurge at a later date.

Sit?
Would you like to sit?

Let’s take a look at a behaviour that most people are going to teach their pet dog:  a sit.

‘Easy’ you say.  Yes, it’s not difficult to teach but how are you going to teach it?  Are you going to push your companion’s bum to the floor and command them to sit?  Are you going to push their bum to the floor, tell them to sit and then tell them good girl or good boy?  Are you going to pull up on their collar, tell them to sit and then  give them a treat?  Are you going to wait until you see them sitting and then say ‘Yay, good sit!’  Are you going to tell them to sit and then lure them into position with a piece of yummy food?  All of these methods will ‘work’ so which option would you choose?  My choice?  None of the above!  Some are much better methods than the others and I hope you can spot which ones I am referring to, but none of them would be the path I would take.

I would choose the path of modern, science based, rewards based, force-free training.  ‘Mmm’ I hear you say, ‘ a few of the above options  use rewards’.  Yes they do, but none of them are the most effective way to teach your companion how to sit!

So, I hear you ask: ‘How would you teach a sit?’  I would teach it carefully, I would teach it thoughtfully. I would teach it clearly.  I would teach it ‘precisely’.  I would teach it with all future learning in mind.  I would teach it in such a way as to promote accelerated learning.  I wouldn’t just use a ‘reward’, I would use a ‘reinforcer’.  I wouldn’t use a ‘command’ and I wouldn’t even, initially, use a cue!  I would teach it the TrickMeister way!  I would teach it as a trick!  “What?” I hear you say, “Why would you teach it as a trick?  My answer?  I teach all behaviours as tricks and I teach all tricks in a way that fulfills all the above mentioned criteria: Carefully, thoughfully, clearly, precisely…  and much more!

By teaching behaviours as ‘tricks’ I teach in a playful way and in a fun way but this doesn’t mean that I didn’t need to learn the mechanics; it doesn’t mean that I didn’t need to understand ‘learning theory’; it doesn’t mean that I didn’t need to know the difference between a ‘command’ and a ‘cue’ or the difference between a ‘reward’ and a ‘reinforcer’.  I had to work on my skill-set and I had to build on my knowledge.  I needed to learn how to ‘cleanly’ lure a behaviour.  I needed to learn about fading the lure.  I needed to learn about ‘marking’ a desired behaviour.  I needed to learn how to break my ‘lessons’ down into easily achievable steps.  I needed to learn about training in ‘sets’.  I needed to learn when I should add the cue…

I’ll let you into a secret – I’m still learning!  I love to learn and my dogs love to learn!  My students love to learn and their dogs love to learn!  Why?  Because learning is fun!  Learning is a game!  Every interaction we have is a chance to learn!   I will never stop learning!

If you are a pet dog owner who is interested in learning how to teach your pet or you are a trainer who would like to improve your skills and knowledge and perhaps introduce a ‘trick’ or even a new ‘manners’ programme to your training curriculum then please take a look at the TrickMeister programme.  The money you spend now will put you on the right path for all your future learning and could even increase your business’s future revenue.

For more information, please go to:  DogNostics eLearning.

 

Louise Stapleton-Frappell B.A. HONS. PCT-A. CAP3. CTDI. Dn-FSG.
Louise Stapleton-Frappell B.A. HONS. PCT-A. CAP3. CTDI. Dn-FSG.

Louise Stapleton-Frappell B.A. Hons. (Univ. of Leeds). Professional Canine Trainer – Accredited through The Pet Professional Accreditation Board. Certified Trick Dog Instructor. Fun Scent Games Instructor. Clicker Competency Assessment Program Level 3 Distinction. Force-Free Instructor’s Award and K9 First Aid Certification. Animal Behavior and Welfare Verified Certification. Super Trainer Clicker Trainer. Dog Emotion and Cognition Verified Certification. Performed as the Dog Trick Instructor at In The Doghouse DTC.

Louise is a passionate advocate of Force-Free Training, promoting a positive image of the “Bully” Breeds and advocating against Breed Specific Legislation in favor of breed neutral laws and education about dog bite safety and prevention. Proud “Mum” to Jambo – Staffy Bull Terrier Trick Dog:  The first Staffordshire Bull Terrier to achieve the Title of Trick Dog Champion. Louise has her own YouTube Channel where she shares “How to Teach” videos and fun trick videos. Jambo has been aired on “Talent Hounds” TV in Canada. Jambo was also featured as a Victoria Stilwell “Positively Success Story”.

Louise blogs for The Pet Professional Guild and is a regular contributor to BARKS from the Guild magazine.  She is a Steering Committee Member of PPG; Steering Committee Member and the Membership Manager of the Pet Professional Guild British Isles; Co-presenter of PPG World Services radio; Faculty Member of DogNostics Career College; Steering Committee Member of Doggone Safe and Regional Coordinator of Doggone Safe in Spain. Louise is a passionate advocate of Force-Free Training. She believes that everyone should know how to teach their dog using science based, rewards based, force-free training methods and that all learning should be fun!  Louise is also the creator of TrickMeister, a  unique program aimed at increasing the knowledge and training skills of both dog guardians and pet professionals.